Michael Abou Nabhan
People who stroll on the promenades of the American University of Beirut see buildings and trees that have lived through decades, kept safe because of a Chief of Protection who has looked over them for the last twenty-five years.
Through student elections and tuition increase protests, Captain Saadallah Shalak has ensured a peaceful atmosphere for all members of the University.
“After the bombing of College Hall on November 8, 1991, AUB’s Administration decided to improve the security services at AUB and its medical center and search for a new Chief of Protection,” the Captain explained. “A selection committee, which had four Vice Presidents chaired by the Deputy President Dr. Ibrahim Salti, hired me effectively as of January 1, 1992.”
As Chief of Protection, Shalak is involved in the micro-management of security issues, which ranges from investigating thefts and recommending preventive measures to training the security officers and assessing their performance.
He is also involved in maco-managing security, which includes being a member of many committees in charge of general policies on campus and at the Medical Center, in addition to other responsibilities and positions.
In 1976, Captain Shalak received his Bachelor of Military Arts and Science in Lebanese Internal Security Forces (ISF), serving there for about forteen years.
By 1983, he had also received a BA in both Journalism and Public Relations at the Lebanese University.
Upon asking the Captain about an AUB memory he had held onto until today, he answered, “The first impressive memory was the ruins of College Hall in front of my office at the Main Gate building; as a chief investigator during my work with the police, I spent long hours searching for the cause of violence.”
Violence was previously a big threat on campus, according to Captain Shalak. In the seventies, the Dean of FEA, Raymond Ghosn, Ph.D., and the Dean of Student Affairs, Robert Njeimy, Ph.D., were murdered by an expelled AUB student. During the eighties, AUB President Malcom Kerr, Ph.D., the Chief of Protection Afif Saghira, and the Protection Supervisor Riad Halabi were also murdered, in addition to several kidnapping incidents of some AUB officials and the bombing of College Hall in 1991.
After taking all this into account, and thoroughly analysing all these incidents of violence, the Captain came to two conclusions.
“AUB is like a lighthouse in front of the dark sea; no way to discriminate among the fishermen, and the AUB light should help all seekers of knowledge regardless of their race, religion, or nationality,” he said.
His second conclusion involved the dichotomy of protection versus security.
“The Office of Protection should be loyal to AUB only, and should serve the AUB mission by providing security to AUB students and not enforcing security on them,” Captain Shalak noted.
Twenty five years later, “the Office of Protection established an excellent relation with the AUB students, who are smart and committed to the AUB Alma Mater,” the Captain added.
The Captain’s day-to-day routine includes reviewing the reports of three shifts on campus and the Medical Center, reporting incidents and violations of policies to the concerned departments, attending the security meetings with protection officers and management, meeting with AUB and AUBMC departments, and roaming the campus, Medical Center, and paths between them.
A ‘break’ from this routine is always the Commencement Exercises that happen each year, which are the most hectic days for Captain Shalak.
The Office of Protection faces a chronic shortage of personnel. To make up for this, the Captain has to work 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
“I advised my two sons a long time ago to not choose a job that requires being on call 24/7, which is a hectic responsibility,” the Captain shared.
When it comes to family, Captain Shalak lightheartedly said, “The balance between my personal life and my work is when I receive a telephone call from my wife informing me that I exceeded twelve hours at work, thanks for her.”
AUB is truly one of our Chief of Protection’s homes.
Captain Shalak ended with a message to the AUB students:
“Time cannot be recycled, use it properly in order to protect the pocket of your family,” he said.